Long before I came back to the church, during those years in which I considered myself an atheist, I discovered the writings of Kahil Gibran (only after I joined the Catholic Church did I learn that Gibran had been Catholic) ; there was one meditation of Gibran’s in particular that I loved: On Joy and Sorrow.
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was
oftentimes filled with tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
The truth of Gibran’s words seemed to pierce my soul and I memorized these and a few other lines to use as a mantra for those many times in which nothing in my life made sense. Starting today, I think of them again, for a different reason.
Thursday evening begins the three days the Church calls the Triduum, or the Three Days. This Lent, and this week particularly, I keep thinking about three ideas which seem jam-packed with paradox, which can fairly accurately be called oxymoronic.
- Jesus, Jesus the man.
- The command by the Church that we consider these days not as re-creating the historical and tragic event but something else.
- The joy (gaudium) of the Three Days.
Unless I live into a three digit life, I will have lived most of my life not as a Christian Catholic but as something else- the labels varied through the years. Back in my early days as a Christian Catholic, I ventured readily, even eagerly, into deep conversation with others who said they were Christian or Catholic. I learned quickly that most of us Christians are quite comfortable with Jesus as God. It’s the man who makes us itchy, despite the scratching, the crawling sensation never quite disappears.
Even more strangely to me, this last Lent I have finally understood why Protestants have made such a big deal about Paul. The Paul who made my skin crawl with his exhortations to husbands about subjecting their women.
Because I realized that all of the Gospel passages I have memorized over the last several years are Paul’s, I decided I needed to know more about this man, Paul. Several weeks ago, I asked a friend, a Benedictine nun, for the name of one of the books on Paul she had studied a few years ago.Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free by F.F. Bruce was the name of the book that Sister Charlotte and Sister Connie Ruth, the librarian at their Benedictine monastery, sent me several weeks ago. Because of this book, my sense of Paul, the apostle has been changed, quite radically in fact.
Perhaps because Paul was free of the personal experiences the others had with Jesus, Paul writes more vibrantly perhaps even purely of this man Jesus than does any of the others; he seemed to possess an understanding of Jesus as a man who had to ‘grow into his divinity’. Several places in Hebrews Paul writes of the ‘obedience Christ learned through suffering’ and writes clearly in Philippians of a man who ’emptied himself’ to ‘become a slave’ ‘known to be of human estate.’ And it is Paul who grasps the concept of the Mystical Body of Christ- that beautiful passage in Ephesians, ‘we are strangers and sojurners no more, no we are members…”
Somehow, all of this has led me to see how we can look at the agony, the viciousness of the suffering endured by this man, not with understanding but with something else. The command from the Church to ponder and pray not to re-create the horror but for some other reason, perchance joy, starts to make sense. For the explanation, I return once again to Gibran.
Some of you say ‘Joy is greater than Sorrow’ and others say
“Nay, sorrow is the greater”
But I say onto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you,
Remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.